France was hit by massive walkouts and protests Thursday against a government plan to raise the retirement age from 62 to 64. The plan is shaping up as a test for French President Emmanuel Macron and for the labor unions that oppose it.
Thousands of protesters had gathered at Paris’ iconic Place de la Republique by midafternoon, and they just kept coming.
“I’m just here because it’s not a fair law that the government wants to do,” a protester named Virginia said.
Virginia is in her 50s and works for a cosmetic company. Like most French, polls show, she’s against the government’s pension reform plans. Critics say it will unfairly punish those who have worked since a young age, often in blue-collar jobs.
“It’s not fair, because the stronger are the winners, and people who worked all their lives in difficult situations, we will pay for that,” Virginia said.
Some 200 major protests were taking place across the country, with the largest in Paris. Countrywide, flights, trains and metro routes were shut down or disrupted. Many schools were shuttered because teachers, like many other French workers, were on strike.
Middle school English teacher Hortense joined colleagues in Paris to march against the pension reform.
“We think that with this kind of law, we’re going to be too old to teach students,” she said. “Like, for me, I will be in retraite [retirement] when I will be 68.”
Macron and his government say the reforms are vital to prevent the pension system from going bankrupt, as more and more people retire and live longer.
Unions and other critics say there’s no immediate problem — and there are other ways to balance the books besides making French citizens work longer.
Previous French governments, including Macron’s, have tried but failed to reform the pension system. France’s retirement age is among the lowest in Europe.
French lawmakers will begin examining this latest pension reform legislation next month. Unions warn of more protests to come, including this Saturday.